Green beans are available here in the north east from early summer up until the first frost. Steamed and served naked or dressed to kill, green beans make frequent appearances at my table during the growing season.
Pictured above is my favorite version of “dressed to kill”. The ingredient list is simple: green beans, cherry tomato, gremolata (parsley, Parmigiano Reggiano, garlic cloves, lemon zest), olive oil, salt. All ingredients qualify as minimally processed except salt and olive oil which are culinary processed ingredients and the imported aged Parmigiano Reggiano which would be classified as processed.
As nutrition labels go, this label reflects a balanced nutrient profile. No dramatic highs and no notable lows with a serving size of approximately 1 cup. A nutrition non-event.
THE PROBLEM WITH FACTS
This time the facts are kind to my green beans, but as a general rule of thumb the facts are not friendly to home cooks or chefs.
The facts were designed for processed food products in a retail environment. The original nutrition facts legislation, passed in 1990, required a standardized nutrition label on these products and affirmed the FDA’s authority to regulate nutrient content and health claims on food labels. Concurrently the Dietary Guidelines urged Americans to choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol; to use sugars in moderation; and to use salt and sodium only in moderation.
Over the last 3 decades, moderation has morphed into an axis of nutrient evil. And that’s the problem for cooks and chefs. Fat and salt and sugar, the components of the axis of nutrient evil, are the same traditional processed culinary ingredients cooks and chefs have traditionally used on a daily basis in home kitchens and restaurants.
Let’s refocus for a moment of my green beans. Home cooks have an advantage over food product manufacturers because we work primarily with minimally processed fresh ingredients. Fresh vegetables especially fresh seasonal vegetables add flavor to the plate. What’s left to the cook or chef to do is flavor enhancement. The little tomatoes add sweetness to the green beans. A sprinkle of Parmiggiano and my beloved olive oil add fat. And some salt enhances flavor. Never too much so the dish tastes salty, but just enough to highlight the flavors from all the other ingredients.
Home cooks who are just beginning and lack experience with the traditions of home cooking may not realize that salt and sugar and fat are culinary ingredients that used to be commonly found on counters or in pantries. We’ve spent several decades now in a world that favors convenience over freshly prepared and surrounds us with media messages about hyper-palatability and the axis of nutrient evil in packaged products.
What the Dietary Guidelines refer to as nutrients to restrict and NOVA classifies as processed culinary ingredients, traditional chefs and home cooks just think of as normal.